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Harold Hill Industrial Estate, promotional brochure from 1956.

Published by the Harold Hill Industrial Assn.

I wasn't certain if Specter's ever got started but I now have proof from Wilky in Spokane Washington. He owns the sweet tin below, which is in remarkable condition being over fifty years old. Spectors operated from late 1956 until about 1961 when it became much more familiar to us as the A&BC Chewing Gum factory "The Gum"

THE BUBBLE GUM FACTORY

The following short history of the A&BC Chewing Gum factory in Spilsby Rd was written by Nigel Mercer. He is an Australian collector of English Football cards, and he runs a website devoted to that subject at http://cards.littleoak.com.au/
Early in 2007, Nigel was contacted by Mr. Tony Coakley, one of the original directors of the A&BC Chewing Gum company. Now in his 80s, Tony was one of the founding members of the company in 1949, and stayed with A&BC until it's demise in 1974. Nigel wrote the following article based on Tony's recollections of the history of A&BC Chewing Gum. The Friends are grateful to Nigel Mercer for allowing us to reprint his article, asking only that we remind readers that the article is copyright and may not be reproduced elsewhere without the permission of the author.

A&BC Chewing Gum Ltd. formed in 1949, and folded in 1974. In its 25-year history it produced some of the best bubble gum and collectors cards ever seen in the U.K. The company has become a favourite amongst card traders and collectors for the quality, variety and imagination shown in the design and production of their gum giveaways. Their range covered film stars, the Beatles, the Monkees, Man from UNCLE, Civil War cards and banknotes, as well as an impressive range of English and Scottish football cards, pennants, pin-ups, emblems and crests. In the history of gum and trade cards, they will go down as one of the greats.


BEGINNINGS


In 1949 there were many post war shortages in England, including the rationing of sweets, and very few products for children. In London four young men, all recently demobilized from their military service, Mr. Simon Anysz, Mr. Rudy Braun, Mr. Douglas Coakley and Mr. Tony Coakley decided to form a company with the aim of producing and selling chewing gum. Using the letters of their names they had wanted to call the company 'ABC', but the Aerated Bread Company (a company which existed from 1862 until 1955 and which was known as the A.B.C. Company) objected. Instead, the partners decided on the name A&BC Chewing Gum Ltd. Contrary to some common misconceptions the company has never been known as 'American & British Chewing Gum Ltd.', nor was it ever a subsidiary of Topps Inc.
The company began producing their gum in a small factory in Cricklewood, North London. Besides the four directors, there were five other employees in the early days. After a few years Mr. Anysz was bought out, leaving Messrs Braun, Coakley and Coakley in control. Douglas Coakley was in charge of Sales and Marketing, with his younger brother Tony in charge of factories, machinery and production. Mr. Braun was in charge of accounting.
Their main competitors in the gum market at the time were Anglo American Chewing Gum (Bubbly) and Wrigley. In those days England had no money and the Exchange control of the dollar was very tight. As imports were strictly controlled the market was wide open. Hard to appreciate now but A&BC managed to circumvent a lot of the problems that came with the importation of machinery. There were many difficulties, fighting the then establishment who thought Chewing Gum was disgusting and not worth considering giving them a license during this time of shortages; things were very restrictive. Since there was no sugar available without a license, one of the first ever-sugarless chewing gums were produced using an artificial sweetener, so that the product did not require sweet rationing coupons.
A&BC began by making a Chewing Gum in a twist wrap style, and then Douglas Coakley went to America on his honeymoon and whilst he was there, sought out anyone who might be selling machinery to mass produce chewing gum, since the required equipment was very specialized. By fortune he was informed of a chewing gum company who had gone into liquidation in Fort Worth Texas, he flew from New York and bought the equipment not knowing anything about machinery, he took the chance. A&BC were then able to produce their first proper chewing gum which was wrapped in the familiar style that is still used today; it was called "Everlast" chewing gum.


CARD PRODUCTION


With the machinery that came from America, A&BC started to produce gum with cards. They had remembered the popularity of the children's craze for cards from before the War, and thought that cards would improve the sales of their gum. A short while later their first bubble gum was produced and included cards of Film & TV Stars, these were wrapped in a wax wrapper which also included an imaginary dollar bill in the printing, hence the name "Dollar Bubble Gum".
In the same year, their printers suggested at the time of the Coronation to produce cards of the Queen with photographs by Dorothy Wilding as they had permission to produce these prints (a set of 24 'Royal Portraits'). This was controversial at the time as they were not of the Coronation and were seen as 'cashing in', though it did give A&BC publicity and increased sales.
With increasing sales A&BC quite rapidly outstripped the production capacity of their printers. One problem for the printers was their inability to collate the cards properly to try and avoid duplicates in the same wrapper; eventually A&BC cut and collated the cards themselves.


ALLIANCE WITH TOPPS


The Topps Company was founded in the U.S. in 1938, and begun producing Bazooka bubble gum after World War II. In 1950 Topps began including cards in with their gum in an attempt to increase sales. In 1952 the then President of Topps came to England and, while there, visited A&BC Chewing Gum. According to the recollection of the Coakley brothers he advised A&BC that they were getting nowhere and advised a tie up with Topps under a license agreement to produce some of their products. At the time A&BC ignored this advice and declined the Topps offer.
A&BC began to expand and after a further visit to America started making Ball Gum for the first ball gum vending machines in the country as well as for their other products. At this stage they were producing about 15 tons of gum each week. The company soon outgrew the premises in Cricklewood and around 1958 moved to larger premises at Colindale in North London.
In 1959, Topps again approached A&BC and this time A&BC were ready to listen. The two companies negotiated a license for A&BC to produce Bazooka Bubble Gum and to reproduce some of Topps' card gum series, starting with Elvis Presley, Flags , etc. A&BC also agreed to buy some old wrapping machines for the card gum and a new wrapping machine from Forgrove (U.K.) to produce Bazooka, after it had been sent to the States and modified, all very expensive. This then meant that after signing the license agreement, A&BC was committed to paying a percentage of their turnover of all products to Topps, and sticking strictly to the terms of the license agreement.
Over the next 15 years A&BC continued to produce their own series of cards, increasingly focusing on the popular football cards, though they also produced the Topps U.S. series range of cards. Regardless of the source, all A&BC cards were printed in England. A number of A&BC cards are recorded as having the initials 'TCG' on the cards, and A&BC on the wrappers. This is understood to indicate where the cards came from Topps but were wrapped into A&BC packets.


FOOTBALL (SOCCER) CARDS


The concept of producing football cards came from Douglas Coakley. A&BC Gum began with an 'All Sports' series in 1954, a set of 120 cards which included 36 footballers. They followed this in 1958 with a set of 92 footballer cards, and thus began a run of 16 unbroken years of football card production. During this 16 year period A&BC produced both English and Scottish sets, and included special issues and giveaways with many cards e.g. paper pennants, small black and white photographs etc.
Douglas Coakley was responsible for the design of the cards, plus signing up the teams and individual footballers (his brother Tony can remember seeing signed permission slips obtained by Doug as he toured around the training grounds). Later on Tony's son Sheridan, who created an in house A&BC Art & Development Department, joined him. A footballer series was produced every year in their thousands and therefore became the mainstay of A&BC.
In or around 1959, when the company was producing a Cricketer card series, the printers went on strike and only just managed to get the uncut cards delivered to the factory. That night there was a very serious fire at A&BC. After some time they managed to get back into production but they then decided to look for a bigger factory. A suitable factory was found in Harold Hill near Romford Essex, east of London where they remained for many years. They increased the factory footage many times and also bought the next door factory as the company expanded.


TOPPS & THE BEATLES


In 1962/63 Douglas Coakley approached Brian Epstein (manager of the Beatles) and his lawyer David Jacobs and obtained the rights and license to produce cards with the Beatles images and signatures. A set of 60 cards were first produced and issued, with immediate success.
Information of the series success was passed on to Topps in the U.S. and A&BC gave them the photographs and helped to negotiate the rights and license for Topps to produce these sets in America, leading to an enormous success there.
Around this time Topps saw that the A&BC Chewing Gum Company was a good business, and decided to buy out Rudy Braun, which turned out over time for A&BC to be an error of judgment. This was just after A&BC's biggest year, mainly due to The Beatles Cards, the increase in sales of the Footballer series, and their other products.


THE END OF A&BC GUM


After many years there was a falling out between A&BC and Topps, and litigation followed. While A&BC were preparing for the court case there was a large fire at their factory in Spilsby Road, Harold Hill around Guy Fawkes night in 1972 or 1973. Tony remembers that it must have been around 8pm when the alarm was sounded, as he remembers that they had friends to dinner and one of them came out to the factory with him. Tony remembers that after the fire they were back in business fairly quickly as they had taken out consequential loss insurance coverage.
The Coakley brothers ended up with a month of litigation in the High Court in June 1974. After an expensive month in court the brothers lost the case and, as per their license agreement, the business was wound up.
Some lawyers have since expressed an opinion that A&BC should not have lost the court case, but they did. It cost the Coakleys dearly as they had sunk everything into the Company and also suffered the expense of the Court case. At the time the company folded it had 350 employees. They had to leave behind six Card Gum wrapping machines, producing 200 packs per minute, and wrapping machines for Bazooka which wrapped at 500 pieces per minute, usually worked on 3 shifts. Most of this machinery had been either modified or made by A&BC in their own engineering works under the supervision of their Chief Engineer, Mr. Charlie Ford, who had worked for the company from its inception.
1974 brought a sad end to a great story. The company is now gone, but certainly not forgotten, particularly by card aficionados. Mr. Tony Coakley remembers that it was a fun business producing products that appealed to children, and that there was never a dull moment. When things went right, when developing or installing new machinery, planning factory extensions, there was great satisfaction to be had. For 25 years, the best part of their working lives, A&BC Chewing Gum gave Douglas and Tony Coakley hard work, success and satisfaction. According to Tony, despite the frustration and difficulties, 'Success is always fun'.
Topps Chewing Gum took over where A&BC Chewing Gum ended. They produced their first set of football cards under the Topps Bazooka Limited name in 1975. They continued each year until 1981, after which they became occasional producers of football cards. In 1995 they acquired Merlin, and became major producers of football cards again in the late 1990s.


©2008 Nigel Mercer

 

Recollections of a month working in the Bubble Gum Factory 1965. Del Smith.

Followed by Ken Hatfield's recollections of working on the same machine at about the same time. I think Ken's eye for detail was superior to mine (Del)

The A&BC chewing gum factory, (The Gum) was situated on the edge of the huge Harold Hill Council Estate. The housing estate and its associated industrial estate were built in the late 1940's and early fifties. The whole estate was populated from London slums and inadequate housing following the Second World War. I moved there with my parents and younger brother at the age of three in 1951 and I stayed for fifty five years. The schools were all single sex, they were huge and overcrowded. In the main we left school at fifteen and streamed out into factories and building sites etc, we were mostly labouring fodder. The Harold Hill Industrial estate had a large number of factories, amongst many others there was Lee Cooper Jeans, Lovable Bra, and of course The Gum. There was no unemployment and most factories had permanent vacancy boards displayed. I could and did walk out of one factory and into one next door on several occasions, wherever you worked you would meet people you had known from school or simply off of the streets.
The Gum had a reputation as being just another one of the "dead end jobs" The jobs were boring and dirty (sugar dust got everywhere we all came out with permanent waves) and some pretty disaffected boys worked there. The pay was a bit above average without that I don't think they would even have got us no hopers in there. I worked there for several weeks in about 1964/5. I had friends in there and they described working there as "a laugh" Looking back I think this meant you could do a lot of dossing about and you didn't have to work too hard. That seemed to suit me at the time. Interviews were rudimentary, I simply lied about my work record. I know I did that because I always did. It was never checked.
A foreman took me onto the factory floor and my main job was to be on the ball gum machine. It was the most tedious mind numbing job I have ever had. I had to stand behind a chest high conveyer belt. At one end four continuous small tubes of pink gum would be extruded on to the conveyer, these lengths would be chopped into manageable lengths of about 300mm as they came towards me. The belt wasn't fast and my job was to roll these 300mm sausages across the conveyer and then down a slope whilst trying to make sure that they rolled down horizontally. At the bottom of the slope was a large revolving stainless steel screw or worm, tight against the slope and parallel to the conveyer. The round strips of gum would be drawn into the screw and balls would be ejected at the bottom into a tray. If the gum didn't go down the slope parallel to the screw it would bounce about on top of the screw eventually rolling up with the succeeding strips until you had a huge ball of pink spaghetti that couldn't get into the worm. I would then have to stop the conveyer walk round to the worm and remove the spaghetti so that the worm could do its job. I often did this deliberately to break the monotony.
When the tray was full of balls I had to carry them up to the sugar coating tumbler. If the balls went through the worm close to its spindle they would get a coating of black grease, I took delight in sending these up for sugar coating along with the rest.
I did this every day for eight hours a day, after the first few days on my own initiative I acquired a couple of wooden pallets and balanced a chair on top so that I could at least sit down as my brain grew numb. After a while the foreman spotted me and said sitting down wasn't allowed, I said why not, and a lengthy argument developed, he got more and more irate and eventually stormed off saying it wasn't allowed and it was his last word on the matter. I ignored him and carried on with my high chair system and it was never mentioned again. Though every morning when I came in I found that my structure had been dismantled and I had to rebuild it. I carried on like that for a month or so with the odd day off sick. Then one morning as I was perched up on my chair rolling the gum off with one hand whilst the other one propped up my head I realised I couldn't face it any more When along came my favourite foreman, he told me to use two hands (you need to use two to get the gum to roll down level) I was as unpleasant as I possibly could be, saying no, my arms ached and I needed to take turns, I was sure I would be sacked but no he eventually walked off in a huff. I clocked out about five minutes later and my career in The Gum was cut short. I was walking on air all the way up Spilsby Rd, whistling as I went.
I don't know if there was a union at The Gum, if there was it didn't seem to work, I doubt it existed. I doubt we would have cared.
Working at the gum was not a pleasant experience most of the boys had not the slightest interest in the company, boys would pick up spilt gum from the floor and return it whence it came and on occasion some would spit in the gum mixers and I heard rumours of worse. Bullying was common place, an extension of school really. On one sad occasion at lunch in the firm's canteen a fight broke out between two particularly dim boys. The place was packed with many adults included, the fight was not particularly brutal, but the response of the diners was to egg them on cheering and even when one was reduced to tears he was jeered and cajoled to continue the entertainment. I do remember thinking it was all out of order but I did nothing. Stealing from the firm was not considered wrong, though thefts from the actual factory floor were minimal because the last thing you wanted to do when you got out of there was to chew. I occasionally took some home for my little brother.
I had one good friend, Peter Storer, who unbeknown to the rest of us had joined a lucrative business on the side. He worked in the loading bay, a good job out of the main factory area. Whilst there, I suspect following an existing practise, he would overload the lorries. The delivery drivers would then sell the products to retailers on their rounds. They were all eventually caught and sacked, Pete, who was the youngest, got fined. I can't remember what happened to the others.
We all wondered why he had stayed at the gum for so long, we put it down to it being a good little number in the loading bay. Obviously his side-line had something to do with it.
As time moved on, we moved on, grew up, adopted the morality of our parents, got married and trained into proper jobs. We mostly became responsible.
Looking back and reading the above the boss obviously worked hard and cared very much about the company, for all I know he may even have cared about us. At the time he was not our concern.
These teenage reminiscences are all mine, clouded by about forty seven years and of a very short period in the company's history. Taken alone they may well not be a fair representation of life in the gum. I am sure that there were many people who forged careers and even enjoyed working there. I simply don't know them. I am not ashamed of what I did or didn't do there, nor am I proud of it, it's just how it was

Del Smith

**********************************************

I worked at the A&BC chewing gum factory for about 6 weeks after leaving what was called a school and whilst waiting for my apprenticeship to be sorted out. My dear Mum was a forelady there in the packing dept. and we were never short of chewing gum! I was mainly involved with making ball gum but did a bit of work on the Bazooka Joe machine too. The radio would be played through loads of speakers dotted around the factory and loads of songs remind me of that time, Everyone's Gone To The Moon, I Got You Babe etc.etc....Really great days!'
Imagine the following with Jonathan King's song …."Streets full of people, All alone, Roads full of houses, Never home, Church full of singing, out of tune, Everyone's gone to the moon…………" playing throughout the factory's speakers……… followed by Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe"
Like Del Smith, I suffered that overwhelming boredom working on the ball gum conveyor belt where we had to straighten and spread out the cream colour - (not pink, as with Bazooka Joe gum and the flat gum which came with the football and other cards) - pencil shaped strips or rods, before they fell into the two rotating drums which formed the balls. The rods were extruded through circular holes in a plate at about 135 degrees behind me and chopped into approx. 12" lengths. These rods of gum would travel along a conveyor belt for about fifteen feet and then somehow change direction onto another conveyor belt at a slightly lower level and which ran from my right hand side towards me. These "rods" of gum had to be straightened and spread out so as to be about 4" apart so as to fall into the space where the drums rotated, see below. Once the balls were formed they would fall into a wooden tray….. (approx. 36" x 18" x2" deep with a hardboard base) and I'd have to keep an eye on the level in the tray and then when it was full and before it overflowed, I would quickly hop down from the wooden platform I'd be standing on, pick up the now full tray and place it on a pallet on top of the others which I'd put there earlier. I'd need to be quick as the strips of gum - (about 12" long 'rods' - 5/8" in sectional diameter, i.e. the same diameter as the ball gum) - would be nearing the drums all the time so I'd need to get myself ahead a bit up the conveyor belt with the straightening and spreading out before leaving the platform and I'd need to be quick to get back on it again before there was a build up of unstraightened rods of gum mounting up on the conveyor on their way to the drums. The large wall mounted clock, about 30 or 40 yards away, could be seen straight ahead and the hands never seemed to move, though they did of course! ….To describe the rotating drums which formed the balls - if you imagine a two feet or 60cm diameter stainless steel cylinder, lying on it's side and three feet long, then imagine putting about fifty 5/8" (16mm) diameter semi-circular grooves around the entire diameter and along the complete three feet length of the drum you'd have one of them. If you looked at the drum now in plan view you'd see the semi circles of the grooves at the two, three feet long edges of the drum. (The tips of the grooves were serrated and it was these touching tips which cut the rods of gum.) Take an identical drum and place it next to the other and with the serrated edges of the drums' grooves touching and then look again in plan view and you'd see fifty perfect circles where the two lots of semi-circular shaped grooves met. These two drums were rotated, not very quickly, about 3 or so turns per second, on their central axes and as the rods of gum fell onto the drums they'd be dragged through the drums' circular forms as just described. Along with the balls falling into the tray there would be the ends of the rods which were cut and which didn't quite form a full "ball" - these had to be quickly taken out of the tray and placed in a bin for recycling, all done very quickly so as to be back on the platform for more "rod"straightening. A very boring job indeed! At 10 O' clock all of the factory workers would go for a 10 or 15 minute tea break. I'd go to a room called the canteen and buy a couple of cheese rolls and a mug of tea and take them outside the front double doors to sit on the steps and enjoy a brief break from the monotony which had occupied me since 08:30 that day. I think a bell rang to signal this tea break as it would at lunchtime, which lasted half an hour. There was a further short tea break at 3 O'clock as I remember. Still more monotony in between these breaks and then you'd go through exactly the same monotonous and repetitive stuff the next day…….Fridays were the best of weekdays! I remember one bloke very well because he was a great person with a sharp and witty sense of humour. His name was Georgie Wheeler….. He used to fantasise about selling the gum on the streets. He'd say....... "sell 'em, penny each….Many Pennies!" ...with a whistle at each 's' and 'ch' and with a big grin on his face. He used to make me laugh and I looked up to him not just that he was a couple of years older than I was but because he was simply, a great bloke; he is sadly no longer with us as I recently discovered. The world is a poorer place without Georgie and his ilk. I'd occasionally bump into my dear Mum, Cathy Hatfield who was a forelady in the factory's packing dept … it's so very true when it's said, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. Maybe I'll bump into her again somewhere up above....you never know!

Ken Hatfield

P.S. Douglas Coakley, one of the owners of A&BC has advised that they would buy the football and other picture cards in sheets and that they had a machine at the factory which cut them into individual cards. Another machine would then mix them as it dispensed the five cards which were to be wrapped. Another machine dispensed a piece of pink flat gum down a chute and on top of the five cards and they would all be wrapped together as a packet.

Camborne shops in the 1950's. Published as a postcard by Fitzwilliams.

These shops served the industrial estate, especially the chip shop at the far end and the Bakers (Rhodes) 3rd from the left which did a brisk trade in rolls and pasties etc.